New York City is perhaps the world’s most thrilling playground for kids of all ages. The pool of possibilities is bottomless, and no niche is too small — whatever your children are passionate about, they’ll find ample ways to indulge, from shopping to show tunes. Here are 10 of our favorite ideas for tailoring a New York trip … let these inspire you to create a unique kid-approved itinerary of your own.
If this is your first family vacation to New York, have a blast hitting the big-name sights. Ferry over to the Statue of Liberty; see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall; stroll the High Line and the Brooklyn Bridge; conquer mega-museums such as the Met and MoMA. Snap a selfie with Wall Street’s Charging Bull and people-watch at Times Square for as long as you can stand the crowds.
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum has become an essential stop (with kids 10 or younger, pay tribute at the reflecting pools but save the museum for a future visit, as it may upset them). Of course, an inaugural New York trip isn’t complete without a view from at least one of the three major observatories: the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock or One World Trade Center. Our CB! team has had good experiences at each.
TIP: Crunch the numbers to determine whether the New York CityPASS is worth your while based on what you want to see. If your sightseeing schedule is ambitious, the savings can add up.
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Is there a better place in the world to take budding gourmands? From upper-echelon dining to traditional ethnic eats and first-rate markets, the city’s ever-shifting food scene is as exciting as you’ll find. It’s impossible to make a dent in the vast array of local restaurants, but you’ll enjoy trying. Balance kid-friendly icons such as Katz’s Deli and the Grand Central Oyster Bar with newer and hotter venues (ask your hotel concierge for recommendations and reservations help). Taste your way through Chelsea Market and Gotham West Market, and visit specialty-food purveyors like Amy’s Bread, Russ & Daughters, Murray’s Cheese Shop and Zabar’s. And splurge on at least one old-school, only-in-New-York meal — maybe the Jazz Age standby 21 Club, or the 1885 Keens Steakhouse.
Culinary tours are plentiful here, themed around every neighborhood and tailored to all fancies. Pizza, dim sum, soul food … whatever your taste buds desire, there’s a tour that will tempt them. The CB! Family Vacation Advisor team can help you choose one to match your wish list and kids’ ages. Children 11 and up can participate in The League of Kitchens, where you’re invited into the home of an immigrant to learn how to make his or her native cuisine. Ethnicities include Nepalese, Greek, Argentine, Japanese and more.
New York is a shopper’s paradise, stuffed with an overwhelming variety of indie boutiques, department stores and specialty shops. The best way to tackle it? Choose a neighborhood and dive in. Local shop listings can help you decide where you want to devote your time, but here are a few good places to start: Tweens and teens flock to Century 21 (downtown by the 9/11 Memorial) for discounted designer outfits, plus the Westfield World Trade Center mall at the Oculus transport hub nearby and the upscale Brookfield Place mall on the Battery.
The East Village and Lower East Side are the places to find clothing, shoes and jewelry with a little edge, while SoHo is home to many of the chains popular with older kids, among them Anthropologie, H&M, Uniqlo and Topshop. And that’s just in Manhattan! Plus, professional retail help is yours for the asking: personal stylists who escort visitors to luxury boutiques; custom-curated shopping maps for those who prefer to go it alone; and tours focused on vintage goods and sample sales.
From Harriet the Spy and Eloise to Stuart Little and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, New York has played a starring role in scores of beloved books. Take pint-size readers to the sites so memorably depicted in their pages, such as the Plaza Hotel (which offers Eloise-themed restaurant menus, a playful pink bedroom suite and more) and the Met. At the flagship branch of the New York Public Library, guarded by twin lion statues Patience and Fortitude, free daily tours introduce visitors to the highlights and history of this glorious building.
Serious literature lovers will be smitten with the Morgan Library and Museum, a magnificent collection that includes hundreds of original manuscripts by greats like Dickens, Thoreau, Jane Austen and John Milton. Be sure to build in time for a visit to one or more of the city’s excellent bookstores — our pick is The Strand, an inviting four-level space packed with volumes for every age.
New York with toddlers and preschoolers? It is possible — even fun. While most of the major museums are too much for tiny tots, the American Museum of Natural History captivates them with dinosaur skeletons, a life-size blue whale and other displays. The Children’s Museum of the Arts offers hands-on activities during general admission hours (Thursday through Monday), including some just for ages 5 and under. Other small museums, like the New York Fire Museum and the New York Transit Museum, suit short attention spans perfectly.
Head to the famous Bronx Zoo to gaze at creatures like grizzly bears, Asian elephants and snow leopards up close. In Brooklyn, take a spin on the restored 1922 Jane’s Carousel, or opt for the SeaGlass Carousel on Manhattan’s Battery. Ride a tram across the East River to Roosevelt Island, which offers plenty of room for little legs to run. And there’s always Central Park … endless green space, multiple playgrounds, mini boat races and statues of Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen are just the tip of the kid-friendly iceberg.
TIP: On rainy days, check local listings for drop-in hours at play spaces around the city to let the kids blow off steam.
Broadway beckons! There’s always a family-oriented show playing at one of the city’s major theaters — current and past favorites have ranged from Mary Poppins to The Lion King. Purchase tickets well in advance if there’s a show you absolutely must see. If you’d rather take your chances, visit one of the three TKTS booths around town, where you can score last-minute seats. (We like the one at Lincoln Center, which is indoors and has the shortest lines.) Don’t overlook the variety of performances in off-Broadway venues; there are some true gems to be found, and prices and crowds can be a lot more manageable.
The New Amsterdam Theatre is home to Disney on Broadway, featuring beloved productions like Aladdin and Frozen. Although it’s over-the-top kitschy, the younger set will get a kick out of eating at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, staffed with acting hopefuls who sing and dance as they serve ‘50s diner fare.
TIP: Keep an eye out for free theater performances in summer, held in parks and outdoor spaces throughout the city.
New York has always been a place that charges forward instead of looking back, but the layers of the past peek through at every turn. Get a handle on the city’s history at the excellent New York Historical Society Museum & Library. From there, you’re spoiled for choice: Journey north to Fort Tryon Park to see the medieval treasures at the Met Cloisters, or admire the Art Deco splendor of landmarks like Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building. Tour Ellis Island’s National Immigration Museum, then visit the meticulously preserved Tenement Museum for a window into early-1900s immigrant life.
Kids studying the Revolutionary War in school might enjoy landmarks such as Bowling Green, Trinity Church, St. Paul’s Chapel, Federal Hall and others. Bonus: If you can get tickets to the phenomenal Hamilton, it will bring this era of American history to life in a fresh and indelible way.
Open-air adventure abounds in this most urban of destinations — you just have to know where to look. Hiking trails are laced throughout the five boroughs, and local parks, including Central Park, offer active pursuits like bouldering and fishing (really!). Rent bikes and spend a leisurely afternoon pedaling beside the Hudson River or around the car-free Governors Island. Birdwatching, wildlife tours, horseback riding, canoeing … lovers of the outdoors have a surprising diversity of options.
Looking for a little more adrenaline? With older kids, kayaking and SUP tours along the Hudson and East Rivers yield a new perspective on the skyline. For mountain bikers, three trails (one each in Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens) allow you to ride to your heart’s content. And you can even take a surf lesson at Rockaway Beach in Queens — who knew?
New York’s long and colorful music history spans a spectrum of genres, from classical and jazz to punk, salsa and hip-hop. Treat kids to a performance at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, or hear the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. Harlem’s Apollo Theater, which sparked the careers of a pantheon of African-American musical greats, is available for tours. Don’t pass up a visit to the Met to enjoy its collection of more than 5,000 instruments, including a Stradivari violin.
For rock & rollers, New York brims with sites that played a part in rock history, from Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios to Strawberry Fields in Central Park. While there are companies that lead walking tours themed around these spots, the content is decidedly adult-oriented and not ideal for most kids. CB! can help you arrange a similar tour that’s family-friendly.
Football, baseball, basketball, hockey — New York pro sports teams are legion. You’re almost certain to find a game to attend, but if your teams of choice aren’t playing, you can still explore the iconic venues where they’re based. Visit Yankee Stadium and its Monument Park, which pays tribute to Yankees legends, or the Mets’ Citi Field. Go behind the scenes at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, home to both the Giants and the Jets. Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks and the Rangers play, is available for tours as well. Families who visit in late August and early September can catch a round or two of the US Open tennis tournament in Queens.
To get in the game, stop by the Chelsea Piers complex on the west side of Manhattan. Daily drop-in activities include batting cages, basketball, ice skating and a golf driving range. A toddler gym keeps the youngest ones active while older kids swing, shoot and dribble to their heart’s content.
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Start a Discussion3 Comments
This article really addresses every aspect of a fantastic trip! These are such wonderful ideas. My dream is to take my 5 young children on a trip to NYC, and this article really gave me inspiration to show my children what local life in a big city is like. This makes me super excited to travel!
Thank you for your post! I loved all the description- you’re a wonderful writer. I have a son and we are hoping to come to New York sometime in the next couple years. All your ideas were very helpful! I love that you talked about lots about how kids can blow off steam, eat fun foods, and visit historical sights. I was also hoping my son could really get a feel for NY culture and everyday life. I would love for him to be able to get to know what the people are like there. I think it’s important to not only visit the place, but get to know the people. Can you think of any ways I can give my son and I this opportunity?
Thanks for the kind words, Courtney! Depending on how old your son is, honestly, one of the best ways for him to meet locals is just to spend time in local parks and playgrounds and join in pickup ballgames or other activities. My son and I found that riding the subway goes a long way toward feeling less like a tourist and getting a window into everyday living. I can also recommend a program called Big Apple Greeter (https://bigapplegreeter.org/), a free service that pairs visitors with a local guide who can spend a day or half a day introducing you to the city. It’s quite wonderful. Hope that helps! Let us know if you would like a Family Travel Advisor to reach out with information about our trip planning service.